Afghan Taliban Announces New ‘Political Office’ in Qatar

Thomas Joscelyn
3rd January 2012 - The Long War Journal

The Taliban announced today that it is opening a "political office" in Qatar. According to a translation of the Taliban's message by the SITE Intelligence Group, the office is intended to "spread understanding with the international community."

The US has previously signaled its desire for the Taliban to open such an office. The office is seen as a key part of diplomatic talks. Previous efforts at such talks have failed, however, as the US has even engaged phony Taliban intermediaries in its pursuit of an elusive peace.

In its statement, the Taliban announced that it has "demanded the release of its captives from Guantanamo through a prisoner exchange." The Taliban did not list the detainees it seeks to free, or how this "prisoner exchange" would work.

However, the Afghan High Peace Council, which has sought to broker the peace talks, has named four detainees the Taliban is interested in freeing. The four Taliban leaders are: Abdul Haq Wasiq (former Taliban deputy minister of intelligence), Mullah Norullah Noori (a former Taliban governor and military commander), Mullah Mohammed Fazl (the Taliban army's chief of staff), and Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa (the former Taliban governor of Herat province).

Relying on declassified and leaked Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) documents authored by US intelligence officials, The Long War Journal has previously profiled these four senior Taliban leaders. [See LWJ reports, Taliban seek freedom for dangerous Guantanamo detainees and Afghan peace council reportedly seeks talks with Taliban commanders held at Gitmo.]

All four have extensive ties to al Qaeda, according to intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO.

In its coverage of the nascent peace talks, The New York Times has confirmed that all four have been mentioned as possible bargaining chips. The Times also named a fifth Taliban official held at Guantanamo as a possible candidate for transfer or release: Muhammad Nabi, who is described as "one of the Taliban's top financiers."

Nabi, like the other four senior Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo, has been deemed a "high risk" by US military officials. Nabi also allegedly has longstanding ties to al Qaeda and other allied groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to a leaked JTF-GTMO file.

Served "multiple leadership roles" for Taliban

In a memo dated Jan. 23, 2008, JTF-GTMO analysts recommended that Nabi be held in "continued detention" by the Defense Department. Nabi "was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles," according to JTF-GTMO. Nabi "had strong operational ties to Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) groups including al Qaeda, the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, and the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), some of whom remain active in ACM activities."

Intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO indicate that Nabi was a "member of a joint al Qaeda/Taliban ACM cell in Khowst and was involved in attacks against US and
Coalition forces." Nabi also "maintained weapons caches and facilitated the smuggling of
fighters and weapons."

Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Nabi worked for the Taliban's border security and in this capacity had "access to senior Taliban commander and leader of the Haqqani Network, Jalaluddin Haqqani." Haqqani was the Taliban Minister of Frontiers and Borders at the time and this is what gave Nabi the opportunity to become Haqqani's "close associate," according to JTF-GTMO.

One "sensitive contact" told authorities that Nabi was one of "three former Taliban commanders loyal to Haqqani." The other two are Nabi's brother-in-law, Malim Jan, and Gul Majid. The three worked under still another Taliban commander, Zakim Khan.

Malim Jan was nicknamed the "Butcher of Khowst" for his reported role in murdering 300 people there. Jan was a sub-commander under Haqqani and the head of a "Secret Police" unit.

Intelligence reports cited by JTF-GTMO indicate that Malim Jan, Gul Majid, and Zakim Khan were all still active in the insurgency in Afghanistan as of late 2007.

A "sensitive contact" told authorities that Nabi participated in a Jan. 26, 2002 "planning session to identify a new Governor of Khowst and to propose a list of
members for the Khowst City Shura Council loyal to Haqqani." Several other high-level Taliban and Haqqani officials attended the meeting. One of them "directed the
group to reconvene after members discussed names with al Qaeda members in their
provinces." The leaked JTF-GTMO memo notes: "The plan was to have all personnel identified and vetted to prepare for future al Qaeda control of the area under Jalaluddin Haqqani."

Beginning in February 2002, according to another intelligence report cited by JTF-GTMO, Nabi and "three al Qaeda affiliated individuals held weekly meetings to discuss ACM plans and to coordinate Haqqani loyalists."

Then, in July 2002, an "Afghan government employee" reported that Nabi had joined "a new Khowst province ACM cell comprised of Taliban and al Qaeda commanders who had
operated independently in the past." The list of cell members provided by this source included not only Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, but also individuals affiliated with the HIG and the Haqqani Network.

The JTF-GTMO file includes an intriguing detail about one member of Nabi's cell - a Haqqani money courier named Malik Khan. "Ayman al Zawahiri, the number two leader of al Qaeda" at the time, and now al Qaeda's emir, "has stayed at Khan's compound located outside Miram Shah," Pakistan.

In August 2002, Nabi reportedly helped two al Qaeda operatives smuggle "an unknown number of missiles along the highway between Jalalabad and Peshawar," Pakistan. The missiles were smuggled in pieces, with the intent of rebuilding them for attacks near the Jalalabad airport. On Aug. 28, 2002, JTF-GTMO analysts noted, "two Americans were killed during attacks against the Khowst, Gardez, and Jalalabad airports."

Nabi was captured in September 2002, detained at Bagram, and then transferred to Guantanamo. It was the end, temporarily at least, to a career that started in the 1980s when Nabi first fought as a mujahideen against the Soviets.

A key goal of the US-led peace talks with the Taliban is for Mullah Omar's organization to break with al Qaeda and renounce its terrorist violence. However, as a precondition for the talks, the Taliban seeks the release of five commanders who were all deeply in bed with al Qaeda prior to their detention.

Tags

afghanistan, afpak, isaf, nato, qatar, taliban